iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Jessica and Jason Neal are like any loving parents figuring out how to care for their large family, but what sets them apart is they believe they always have room for one more.
“We have two biological children, we have adopted six, we’ve done foster care for 92 kids and we are waiting to adopt one from Africa,” Jason Neal told ABC’s Robin Roberts.
The Neals describe their life as “unperfectly perfect organized chaos,” but they wouldn’t have it any other way, Jessica Neal said.
Jessica and Jason, both 41, met in 1993. After getting married, they moved to a small town in Ohio. Jessica desperately wanted a large family, so she was devastated when her doctor told her she could not conceive.
Despite the doctor’s prognosis, the Neals had two biological children, Kira, 17, and Dayton, 16. Jessica was told to stop trying after her doctors found a large tumor in her hand that grew during each pregnancy. She was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation in her right hand and arm, and eventually had to have half her palm amputated.
Not letting this sidetrack their ambitions for a large family, Jessica and Jason decided to become involved in foster care. At the same time, Jason had gone into ministry as a youth pastor, and the couple quickly realized they could have a big impact in kids’ lives through foster care.
In 2001, Jessica and Jason relocated to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where Jason had been hired as a pastor at a local church in the community. Jessica later got a job with the city’s reserve police force.
The couple continued fostering for the next decade. Whenever the Neals would get a call that a foster child was in need of placement, they wouldn’t hesitate to bring the child home.
“Somebody’s got to step in to the gap,” Jason said. “Somebody’s got to be willing to put their heart on the line for these kids.”
The Neals said they treated all of their foster children as their own, providing new pillows and new clothes to each to help them feel at home.
“You get to take the tag off something, that’s really special,” Jessica said.
Jessica and Jason said they also held family meetings to check-in with their biological children, Kira and Dayton, who both were vital parts of their fostering.
“It’s all contributed to who I am as a person and who I want to be,” Kira said.
“It’s constant chaos, and constant fun,” Dayton echoed. “Because no matter what happens, you have someone to be with.”
In 2006, the Neals decided to adopt twins Miriam and Malachi, as well as their older brother, Titus, and little sister, Ruthie, all from Minnesota.
“We went from two kids to six kids overnight,” Jason said.
The twins, now 10, have medical challenges. Miriam suffers from an autoimmune disorder and needs infusions twice a month. Malachi suffers from a vascular disorder that often leaves him in chronic pain.
Despite the medical hardships and the family’s mounting financial difficulties, the Neals adopted again. In 2010, Josie, then 4, came into their lives through private adoption in Minnesota.
“I think we make a mistake in America where we try to shelter our kids from all the pain in the world,” Jason said. “I want to teach my children how to make a difference.”
Now, the couple faces a new challenge. On a recent mission to Liberia, West Africa, with Teamwork Africa, a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing churches in Liberia, Jessica met an 8-year-old boy named Emmanuel. The boy has cerebral palsy and does not talk, but the Neals decided they would try to adopt him.
“I met his eyes and I just knew at that moment that’s my guy,” Jessica explained. “I just fell in love.”
However, dealing with an international adoption includes many unexpected difficulties, most notably the $15,000 in adoption fees they still need to bring him home.
In the meantime, the Neals have stayed involved with Teamwork Africa and remain in touch with Emmanuel through a local pastor and his community.
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